Published on April 2nd, 2012 | by PJ Montgomery0
Thor: A Movie Flashback
The fourth film in Marvel Studios shared movie universe experiment, Thor arguably represented the biggest risk for the company to date. The Iron Man films and the Incredible Hulk were all grounded in reality, with science based heroes who felt like real, relatable, human characters. Thor is the god of thunder, and comes from the Realm Eternal, Asgard, and would show us gods mixing with regular people. There would be a definite mystical aspect to Thor that was, so far, not present in the Marvel movies. There was also the problem that was the mostly-Avengers-set-up of Iron Man 2. Would Marvel learn from its mistakes, or would Thor simply be more set up?
Thankfully, Marvel managed to make Thor fit into its grander universe with no problem whatsoever, and had clearly learned it’s lessons from Iron Man 2. Thor was a resounding success, with only a few elements of the Avengers seeded within. Yes, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, who has fast become a fan favourite in these films) is a major presence throughout the film, but you don’t need to have seen either Iron Man film for him to work as a character. Yes, he’s still working for SHIELD, and yes, he does reference Tony Stark at one point, but that’s it. He could’ve just been any random SHIELD agent, and it would’ve worked fine, but for those who have been following the Marvel films, having it be Agent Coulson is a real treat. The only other elements foreshadowing the Avengers are the cameo appearance from Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a vague reference to Bruce Banner and the post credits scene (written and directed by Joss Whedon), in which Stellan Skarsgard’s Erick Selvig meets Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and the Cosmic Cube. None of these elements threaten to overwhelm the film, but are simply nice nods for the fans, and small moments which will pay off when The Avengers is released in less than a month. Thor works very much as its own stand alone film.
And it’s a brilliant stand alone film too. Marvel selected the perfect man to take the helm when they asked Kenneth Branagh to direct the film. Branagh’s extensive experience with Shakespeare made him the best choice to deal with a story which has plenty of classic Shakespearian overtones. At it’s very simplest, Thor is a story of an arrogant warrior prince seeking his father’s approval, while having to deal with his treacherous brother’s schemes. Branagh handles the film with confidence, shooting Asgard and Jotunheim with wide angles to emphasize the epic scale of them, while the scenes in New Mexico are shot with an intimacy that very much creates a small-town vibe. Everything from the action sequences, to the smaller, personal character beats is shot excellently. There’s a strong case to be made that Thor is the best directed of the Marvel Studios films so far.
The cast, as is the norm for Marvel these days, is also spot on. Chris Hemsworth, as the titular Thor, brings the right amount of arrogance and heart to the character, while also buffing up for the role, much to the delight of women the world over. Rewatching the film to write this column with my girlfriend in the room was a mistake. Natalie Portman is also brilliant as Jane Foster, leaving you with absolutely no question as to how an immortal god like Thor could fall in love with a mortal woman. Who wouldn’t when she’s Portman at her most endearing? There’s also able support from the aforementioned Stellan Skarsgard and Clark Gregg, as well as Kat Dennings as Darcy. The Asgardians are also well served, with Josh Dallas, Tadanobu Asano and Ray Stevenson all perfectly cast as the Warriors Three, Jaimie Alexander having fun as Sif, and Idris Elba taking the part of Heimdall and making it much more memorable than it maybe should have been. If it seems like Rene Russo is somewhat underused as Thor’s mother, Frigga, well, there were a lot of characters to juggle. It’s remarkable that Russo is the only one who feels underdeveloped. Then there’s also Colm Feore as King Laufey, adding a suitable air of menace to the proceedings.
However, there are two members of the cast who, between them, manage to steal the film from everyone else. Anthony Hopkins was always going to be brilliant as Odin, bringing power and authority to the part, but with a vulnerability beneath it. You never have any doubt that he is a powerful being who loves both his sons, but won’t brook any insolence from either of them. Hopkins, like Branagh, brings an air of gravitas to the film, which only helps to sell the Asgardian scenes. And then there is Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Hiddleston is the break out star of this film (sorry, Chris Hemsworth), making the god of mischief very much a fully rounded, three-dimensional villain. It’s a tribute to Hiddleston’s performance (and the script, written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, from a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich) that you not only understand Loki’s motives for his actions, but actually feel sorry for him at times. Of course, he’s still the villain of the piece, and Hiddleston relishes the scenes where he really gets to bring the venom, very much making Loki one of those villains you can’t help but love. It’s a very good thing that Loki will be returning as the primary antagonist in the Avengers.
I can’t let this column finish without mentioning the effects work on Thor, which is excellent. Asgard is a majestic, golden city, while Jotunheim is a cold, cruel wasteland of a world, and both are realised wonderfully. Likewise, the Destroyer feels absolutely real in every appearance. My cousin, Nye Warburton, was part of the effects team that worked on the film, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that they did a great job on it.
So, where do we put Thor on our list of Marvel movies so far? Obviously, it’s above Iron Man 2 and Daredevil, but what about the first Iron Man? Honestly, I think it’s a tough call. They’re both cracking movies, but Thor is the better directed. However, Iron Man does have that central performance from Robert Downey Jr. I think really, this one boils down to which character you’re a bigger fan of. And for me, that means Thor comes out on top. But only just.
1. Thor. 2. Iron Man. 3. Daredevil. 4. Iron Man 2. 5 Ghost Rider. 6. Elektra
Recommended Reading – Tales of Asgard
This collection of stories from the legendary team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started life as a back up feature in Journey Into Mystery, the comic which Thor first appeared in which would later be retitled The Mighty Thor. Each story was only five pages long, but Stan and Jack managed to pack so much into them, that they feel jam-packed with as much story (if not more) than many of today’s modern full length comics. Tales of Asgard introduced many elements which would become mainstays of the Thor book, not least of which was the Warriors Three, Fandral the Dashing, Hogun the Grim, and the Voluminous Volstagg. Freed from the constraints of Earth based stories, Lee and Kirby let their imaginations run wild, and delivered fantastical stories in which anything could, and often did, happen. Tales of Asgard showed Stan and Jack at the height of their creative partnership, and is definitely up there with such other classics as the introduction of Galactus and the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four, or the first few issues of the Avengers. You can track the whole thing down these days in one collected volume, with an awesome wrap around cover by Olivier Coipel. It’s well worth your time to do so.